The Bloody Elbow staff has submitted its predictions for UFC 209, which happens on Saturday, March 4th at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada. Only Nick Baldwin and Tim Burke are picking Stephen Thompson to beat Tyron Woodley in the main event. For what it’s worth, we had three writers picking Tony Ferguson, versus two writers for Khabib Nurmagomedov, but none of that matters anymore because the fight is cancelled.
Note: Predictions are entered throughout the week and collected the day before the event. Explanations behind each pick are not required and some writers opt not to do so for their own reasons. For example, if Phil Mackenzie entered all of his predictions on Wednesday without adding in any explanations, he has no idea if he's going to be the only one siding with one fighter for any given fight.
Mookie Alexander: The Khabib-Ferguson cancellation killed off my mood to analyze fights, so this will be brief. I don’t think Thompson can win this fight unless he sets a faster pace, and I also am concerned that he didn’t look comfortable at all leading exchanges, especially with his hands. The adjustments made by both men will be fascinating, but I really believe that short of some flashy kick KO, Woodley will time Wonderboy perfectly and knock him out in the later rounds. Tyron Woodley by TKO, round 4.
Victor Rodriguez: This fight will definitely not be the same as the previous time these two engaged, and we should expect Thompson to be more active and using his range while keeping an eye out for any hits he can land while Woodley closes the distance. Problem is, Woodley closes the distance better than almost every other welterweight on the planet. Woodley can pace himself and save the takedowns for the later rounds while proving he can hang with one of the most dangerous strikers in the sport in the standing department. Thompson will still be able to snipe at range and play keep-away for a while, but eventually Woodley’s strength and all-around more complete game will win the day. Tyron Woodley via TKO, round 5.
Tim Burke: I’m kind of shocked at how many people are taking Woodley here. I think Wonderboy makes a few adjustments on his cage pressure (ie. not getting clubbed in the face he corners Woodley) and he chews him up. Stephen Thompson by TKO, round 4
Fraser Coffeen: If I look back at the first fight, I sort of feel like Thompson was lucky to get the draw. It feels like he managed to succeed at the point game better than Woodley, who, if I am being honest, just controlled more of the fight and had the overall better performance. So where does that leave us? It means Woodley has a smaller range of adjustments to make, and he’s a very good fighter at learning from his past performances and making those adjustments. I expect him to come out smart, execute a well-crafted gameplan, and control this fight by making it a true mixed martial arts fight. Tyron Woodley, Dec
Zane Simon: Having now seen this fight, I feel a lot more confident that Woodley’s style can pick him up a win over Stephen Thompson. The biggest factor for me is just that Woodley is so fast and strong that, having seen Thompson once before already I think he’ll have a lot better feel on when/how to use that speed and power to make things happen. Whereas Thompson will still have to adjust to/watch out for it. Tyron Woodley via TKO, round 3.
Staff picking Woodley: Bissell, Ram, Victor, Stephie, Fraser, Mookie, Zane
Staff picking Wonderboy: Nick, Tim, Phil
Phil Mackenzie: I can see why people might pick Kelly in this one given how borderline-terrified Evans looked against Teixeira and Bader; he's also been relatively vulnerable to left hands throughout his career. However, if Rashad has lost half his speed, that still leaves him about 3 times faster than Dan Kelly. Kelly also tends to rely on parrying punches as he shambles forwards and looks for the left cross- his head has traditionally been there for right hands, whether Camozzi's jab or Alvey's hook, or (I would guess) Rashad's overhand. I think the most likely outcomes are Rashad getting a "classic" KO which leaves people overly enthusiastic about how well he's going to do at this weight class, or a ghastly, cheerless decision a la Rashad-Lil Nog or Rashad-Hendo. Brrr. Let's be optimistic. Rashad Evans by TKO, round 1
Victor Rodriguez: Nope. Going with the upset here. Dan Kelly has been fighting ugly in some of his bouts, but he might just take this. As insane as it sounds, he was able to do well against a guy that on paper should have styled on him standing in Chris Camozzi. Kelly’s striking at close range is sneaky, and his wrestling defense could hold up very well here. Not only that, but his top game might really frustrate Evans, who has undoubtedly lost a step and gotten somewhat gunshy in recent outings. If Evans shows up at 100% and can work some solid combinations while chaining takedown attempts to stifle Kelly, then yes - this is an idiotic pick. It really depends on how much Evans brings to the table at this point. Dan Kelly by decision.
Fraser Coffeen: It’s the classic game of “How shot is this guy?” Up today: former Light Heavyweight champion Rashad Evans, who hasn’t won a fight in over 3 years, is 2-4 in his last 6, and is coming in off yet another year long layoff. (Side note: Did the change in camps to the Blackzilians kill Rashad’s career? Discuss.) So yes, I think he’s decently shot. But he also hasn’t fought the kind of guy that loses to Sam Alvey since… what? Sean Salmon 10 years ago? I’m not picking Rashad much these days, but I’m not ready to throw in the towel at this level just yet. Rashad Evans, Dec
Zane Simon: Kelly could totally win this. There are zero reasons to be confident in Rashad right now. But, Rashad still “should” win. He’s miles more athletic and powerful than Kelly and while he’s chinny Kelly isn’t exactly some great KO threat. Also, what’s the point of rooting for someone as an underdog if you actually think they’re going to win. Rashad Evans via TKO round 1.
Staff picking Evans: Nick, Phil, Fraser, Tim, Zane
Staff picking Kelly: Bissell, Ram, Victor, Stephie, Mookie
Phil Mackenzie: I remain unconvinced by Lando Vannata. I'm not saying that he won't be great, just that I don't really think we've seen anything to make him look like he is right now? On the plus side, he's athletic and confident, with good instincts, and has improved a lot in a relatively short time in the sport. I have some small grasp of his game- an initial step-in is disguised with oblique kick (to spinning shit), and becomes a stepping right hand or rear leg round kick, but... is that... good, as an approach? He could be this Silva-esque genius who just naturally understands where his opponent is going to be. Or he could be a nascent talent who briefly shocked a couple of much better technical strikers by doing weird shit. Can't help but feel that people have been seduced by swag into discounting the second hypothesis. The other thing is that high-pace, high-movement strikers tend to need really good cardio, and he hasn't really shown that in his career either. I still feel like he's a sizable unknown, and so this pick is less a confident one in how comparably skilled Teymur is (although he's a very technical, sound kickboxer who I think can probably chop that initial step-in with leg kicks) and more a protest at the barking mad -375 odds. David Teymur by decision.
Zane Simon: This is going to be a great test of Gibson’s coaching as I otherwise am inclined to agree with Phil. A lot of what Vannata does right now just does not work very well. But, his unusual style and approach combined with amazing confidence and a wide variety of tools has totally shocked a couple of very good fighters. And I do think that Vannata will continue to get better. I’m banking on Teymur being too readable and not diverse enough to deal with Vannata, but if Vannata gets tagged by some of the shots Makdessi hit him with, Teymur may knock him out. Lando Vannata via decision.
Staff picking Teymur: Phil
Staff picking Vannata: Nick, Bissell, Ram, Victor, Stephie, Fraser, Mookie, Tim, Zane
Phil Mackenzie: Hmmmm. Overeem finds himself having to fight something of a perfect fight here - if he leaves his chin out there, he's likely toast. However, Hunt's defensive grappling has increasingly been fairly badly exposed of late, and Overeem is still a strong wrestler. Think he can kick from the outside and hit takedowns when Hunt closes. Given how Hunt has talked about how he was "forced" to fight, I'm also unsure of how much his head is in this. Alistair Overeem by unanimous decision.
Ram Gilboa: A good chin is actually overrated when facing Hunt, because all chins are bad when it comes to him. If he touches you good, you go down to think about your life choices. It’s like facing a Tank Destroyer, doesn’t really matter if you carry a 50mm or a 76mm armor on you. Just don’t be there when the big shell hits; speed, tactics and discipline are paramount here. And Overeem is the better fighter here. That said, Overeem is going to win this fight perfectly until the exact moment when he doesn’t any more. Mark Hunt by KO, round 2.
Victor Rodriguez: Oy, vey. OK, so Overeem has a size and reach advantage, and is an experienced and skilled striker that’s found better ways to use his timing and shot selection. He’s likely to attack with front teens to Hunt’s midsection as if he were fighting King Hippo and work knees to the body from the clinch like he did against Travis Browne. I mean no disrespect here, but this ain’t Browne. Hunt can counter the clinch with stiff uppercuts and hooks to land on that notoriously faulty chin of Overeem’s and have him dream of eating horse meat steaks in Valhalla. That and the fact that Hunt is just a smarter striker with better defense that can and should win the battle of chin testing any day of the week and twice on Sunday. Unless Overeem turns this into a grappling bout and remains in control from top position for most of the fight, Reem might get shut down like Cherno Alpha getting flooded. Marku Hantu by KO, round 2 - and you’ll feel guilty watching it.
Fraser Coffeen: History being made in this fight as for the first time ever in the UFC, two former K-1 Grand Prix champions meet. I’m thrilled, seriously. So, let’s assume for now that they decide to strike. If so, it’s Hunt’s fight to lose. Reem has never quite mastered the art of MMA striking defense, and Hunt doesn’t need many holes to land a bomb. Hunt’s style is deceptively strategic - he seems like he’s just head-hunting, but he’s a very smart, technical fighter in how he goes for that KO. And I just don’t think Reem can deal with that. Now, can Reem take him down and grapple his way to a win? Yes, that’s certainly possible. But it means he has to get inside, where Hunt can make him pay. Reem has good trips and throws, so should have some success with takedowns and ground control, but eventually, Hunt will find that chin. This should be a war of attrition type fight, and Hunt lives for those. Mark Hunt, KO R3
Zane Simon: I’m expecting Overeem to look great for a while before getting clipped and KTFO. Mark Hunt via KO, round 2.
Staff picking Hunt: Ram, Victor, Fraser, Zane
Staff picking Overeem: Nick, Bissell, Phil, Stephie, Mookie, Tim
Luis Henrique vs. Marcin Tybura
Phil Mackenzie: Not bad as far as developmental heavyweight fights go. Henrique is a physical threat- fairly quick on his feet, and very strong. He's not quite the level of freak who can make that kind of grappling game work reliably in the UFC, however, so he needs to show a bit more development in his ancillary skills. Tybura is debatably a bit less dynamic, but I think his technical approach is well-suited for this fight. He's very tough to take down, and his striking was far more polished in his last time out. He can likely use his hands to keep KLB off him, and his kicks if Henrique gets backed up. Marcin Tybura by TKO, round 3.
Zane Simon: Henrique is big and strong and better than I thought he’d be, but Tybura has improved a ton since his UFC debut, notably in his kickboxing game. I think that’ll be too much for Henrique to deal with in his still young career. Marcin Tybura via decision.
Staff picking Henrique: Tim
Staff picking Tybura: Nick, Bissell, Phil, Ram, Victor, Stephie, Fraser, Mookie, Zane
Phil Mackenzie: Darren Elkins has gotten a lot more physical and offensively capable since going to Alpha Male. He still works to grind and grapple but he fills up the interstitial spaces with way more shots, and is more effectively able to outmuscle his opponents. However, the common factor over his career has always been that when he doesn't have the wrestling advantage, he really doesn't have anything to fall back on. I don't think he can outwrestle Bektic, a far superior athlete and much better striker. Maybe he can make the fight tough (like Chas Skelly did) but I think Bektic has improved enough to be able to fight at the distance where his speed and punching power make the difference. Mirsad Bektic by TKO, round 2.
Victor Rodriguez: Make no mistake - I’m totally sold on Bektic, but I don’t see him dealing well with Elkins’ wrestling and control against the cage. Elkins will eat some damage standing while dealing just enough of his own to close the distance and pepper him with shots and maybe threaten a submission or two but bailing on them for more striking opportunities. Growing pains for Mirsad, but Elkins takes this with veteran savvy and grinding grappling chops. Darren Elkins by decision.
Zane Simon: If you had to make a mockup of the kind of fighters Elkins loses to, you’d pretty much end up with Mirsad Bektic. Athletic freaks who can punch and wrestle have been his kryptonite. Bektic may be greener than most of the guys that have beat Elkins, but I think he’s just too much of a physical force for Elkins to grind. Mirsad Bektic via decision.
Staff picking Bektic: Nick, Phil, Ram, Mookie, Tim, Zane
Staff picking Elkins: Bissell, Victor, Stephie, Fraser
Phil Mackenzie: While it was sad to see Brad Pickett get put away so effortlessly, I've always hoped that Alcantara could bring his physicality and his sneaky 3d brawling style together into something cohesive. I remember reading stories of how he'd have to commute two hours a day and worked like a demon on his wrestling when he first tried going to Jackson's. That commitment looks like it might have been paying dividends last time out. However, he's still an aging, physically reliant bantamweight, and Sanders represents exactly the kind of teak tough, take-the-fight-anywhere, high pace opponent who's always been hard for him. Luke Sanders by unanimous decision
Zane SImon: I really love Luke Sanders and am hyped about his game, but I’m not sure he’s ready for this fight. Sanders isn’t actually a very diverse striker or a really great wrestler. Most notably he’s a great transition fighter who fills space with strikes and never stops working. I think he may take over late against Alcantara who has faded late a few times, but I think Alcantara will win early and take a very close decision because of it. Iuri Alcantara via split decision.
Staff picking Alcantara: Victor, Tim, Zane
Staff picking Sanders: Nick, Bissell, Phil, Ram, Stephie, Fraser, Mookie
Mookie Alexander: Oh. I thought this was Mark Spitz vs. Daniel Godbeer. This card isn’t going along swimmingly. Mark Godbeer by TKO, round 1.
Phil Mackenzie: Not a high level fight. Godbeer is a heavy-handed brawler who has struggled very badly with step-ups in competition. Spitz seems like he might have a bit more physical potential, but honestly I'm not sold on his level of competition at all. Cabbage? Some 0-0 guys in fights reffed by Spitz' teammate, Sam Sicilia? Naw. Godbeer's grappling and defense is nothing to write home about, but he's got what actually looks like a genuine technical striking edge here. Mark Godbeer by TKO, round 2.
Zane Simon: Godbeer may not be durable enough for the UFC. But, Spitz just looks too slow and too inexperienced to win an even reasonably high level bout. Mark Godbeer via decision.
Staff picking Godbeer: Nick, Bissell, Phil, Victor, Stephie, Fraser, Mookie, Tim, Zane
Staff picking Spitz: Ram
Mookie Alexander: This is a fascinating fight in that there are a combined four first names between these two men. Paul Craig by submission, round 1.
Phil Mackenzie: Interesting fight between two... wait... light heavyweight prospects? The BearJew is particularly unique as far as LHWs go, being largely a guard player. You can look at that from two perspectives- from one he's a difficult threat to prepare for. On the other, big man guard play is a very dangerous approach to take (allometric scaling and all that jive). Pedro is a much better wrestler, so the question is whether he can mind his Ps and Qs from the top position. I'm going to say yes, without much confidence. Tyson Pedro by unanimous decision.
Ram Gilboa: Going with the BearJew on account of him being called the BearJew. On a related note, would like to hear Buffer calling him that with a straight face, or even better, have WME-IMG call in Brad Pitt to introduce him in. UFC policy in 2017 is becoming more and more a Hollywood take anyway. Also, I feel a BearJew win here and the UFC has to sign a German LHW into their roster and then match them up to complete a headline grabbing mini-scandal. Man, MMA is great. BearJew by what the hell.
Zane Simon: Pedro is probably the better long term prospect, but I’m not convinced that his game is particularly deep enough or well stitched together enough to win really tough fights in the UFC. Most notably he doesn’t seem to be a comfortable enough boxer to stay there for long periods of time, despite having solid technique and power in his hands. I just have this feeling that if this fight gets tough (and I think it will) Pedro may panic and put himself in some bad spots. Craig isn’t nearly as well rounded as he seems to think he is, but he is tough as hell and pretty cool under pressure. Paul Craig via submission, Round 3.
Staff picking Craig: Nick, Bissell, Ram, Stephie, Fraser, Mookie, Tim, Zane
Staff picking Pedro: Phil, Victor
Phil Mackenzie: Two talented strawweights. Cooper is pretty smooth everywhere, with a high-volume striking style, and a decent wrestling and scrambling game. Her main problem is debatably a lack of power. Calvillo is, as yet, a more defined grappler- you can see the pieces of a good striking game coming together in her footwork and shot selection, but it's not there yet. However, her wrestling is the most dynamic weapon either woman is bringing to the table, and I'm not sure Cooper has an answer for it. Decent technical wrestling games have carried fighters like Esparza and Lima pretty far in strawweight. Cynthia Calvillo by unanimous decision.
Victor Rodriguez: Calvillo is tough and has some serious power in her hands when she sets up her opponents, but Cooper is just a better all-around athlete and has a more complete MMA game. This will provide her with more options to control and finish the fight, especially late. Her growth from fight to fight has been fun to watch, and I can see Cooper being active enough on her back to work on getting up to keep the fight where she needs it. Amanda Cooper by decision.
Zane Simon: Cooper isn’t a major KO threat and gives up way too many positions on the ground. Calvillo’s striking is poor, but she moves well defensively and is a great takedown artist/controlling grappler. Cynthia Calvillo via decision.
Staff picking Cooper: Ram, Victor
Staff picking Calvillo: Nick, Bissell, Phil, Stephie, Fraser, Mookie, Tim, Zane
Phil Mackenzie: Should be a cracker of a fight. Soukhamthath is a large, powerful bantamweight who likes to strike. He doesn't have a whole lot of defense, relying on his reach and catch-and-pitch counters, but he keeps his pace at a steady simmer. His lack of defense might be an issue against Morales, a bigger, more aggressive and more potent hitter than the grapplers he's been used to, but Morales has struggled to keep the high pace he sets himself. He's young and improving so difficult to predict his improvement curve, but if he can't hit a TKO early I think he fades down the stretch and Andre Soukhamthath by unanimous decision.
Victor Rodriguez: I’m just happy Soukhamthath is finally in the UFC after being a holy terror in the New England MMA scene. Fighting and beating guys that went on to bigger and better things must’ve been hard, but he’s grown and evolved so well and his standup is going to surprise those that haven’t seen him fight before. His Laotian variant on Muay Thai is brutal, his timing is solid and his finishing instinct is damn near perfect. Morales will do better in the feeling-out process portion of the fight, but it’ll be hard to take Andre down and keep him there, much less submit him. Andre Soukhamthath by TKO, round 1.
Zane Simon: Soukhamthath is a much more technical striker when he gets things clicking, the only trouble is, sometimes it takes him a while to click. When he’s not, Soukhamthath has a habit of depending on big single strikes and then backing straight up and covering with a high guard. It’s not helped by the fact that he relies almost exclusively on a boxing game, which could make him a bit predictable in the UFC. If Soukhamthath can survive early, I expect his tight counter striking will get him a win, but I think Morales’ swarming attack will get him his first UFC win early on. Especially since he’s got a slick back take game to go with his fast hands and KO power. Albert Morales via submission, Round 1.
Staff picking Morales: Zane
Staff picking Soukhamthath: Nick, Bissell, Phil, Ram, Victor, Stephie, Fraser, Mookie, Tim